Finding Peace in Nature: Happy Retreat

“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.” – Martin Luther

Dear Friend of WV Rivers,

Happy Earth Day! Did you know that this Friday is also Arbor Day? A real two-fer!

As a certified arborist, and as Chair of Charles Town’s Tree Board, and having spent the past decade planting more than 6,000 trees through the CommuniTree program, I can definitively say – I like trees.

Not just for the health benefits they provide, or their ability to create clean air or improve property values (or on and on and on…), but for this one fact alone: trees are good for water.

In fact, they’re not just good, they’re great. But, we’ll get to that.

This week’s story of finding peace in nature begins at the aptly named “Happy Retreat”.

On the southern tip of the City of Charles Town’s historic residential district you’ll find Happy Retreat, the former estate of Charles Washington, founder of Charles Town and younger brother of President George Washington.

This 20+ acre nature park, which is intersected by the gently flowing Evitts Run, features several short hiking trails and wildlife viewing opportunities. (If you’re so inclined, your family can learn about trees beforehand and then build your own stick boat!)

Best of all, Happy Retreat is a true forest within walking distance for the majority of Charles Town residents.

Why are trees & forests good for clean water?

Let’s start with the problem – one of the biggest challenges for clean water is stormwater that picks up pollution as it flows downhill toward bodies of water, like Evitts Run. Some of the worst stormwater pollutants include sediments (dirt, clay, soil, etc.) that make water cloudy and harm aquatic life, as well as nutrients that cause harmful algal blooms.

Trees planted over impervious surfaces like parking lots can reduce stormwater runoff pollution by 20%. A single, large tree can retain more than 300 gallons of water. That’s alot less pollution!

Truly, trees and clean water go hand-in-hand.

WV Rivers Coalition is a member of the West Virginia Chesapeake Bay Program “Tributary Team“, a partnership working to address local pollution issues that will lead to a restored Chesapeake Bay. Our plan for reducing sediment & nutrient pollution identifies planting trees along streams as a priority strategy, while also emphasizing the importance of planting trees in community spaces and protecting forested lands through land conservation.

The importance of trees is a core theme throughout our work in the Eastern Panhandle. Our Safe Water for Harpers Ferry project team has identified planting trees as a priority strategy for both improving water quality in the Elks Run and creating a safer drinking water source for Harpers Ferry residents. The Safe Water Conservation Collaborative that we coordinate identified trees generally, and streamside forests specifically, as strong indicators for high-value land to conserve to protect drinking water supplies.

Charles Town, Harpers FerryMartinsburg, and Berkeley Springs all have tree boards – reach out to your community about getting involved. You can also contact our partner Cacapon Institute to learn about their tree planting programs.

There’s an image on the internet that says “Imagine if trees gave off wifi signals, we’d be planting so many trees and probably save the world. Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe.”

We’ve overlooked the glory of trees. We’ve lost our sense of wonder at the magnificene of nature. We’ve forgotten the power of place.

If anything, social distancing has forced us to re-learn the importance of being still, the true value of special places like Happy Retreat, and the inspiration that comes from the appreciation of all things big and small.

So get outside. Build a boat out of twigs, and float on.

Because at this particular moment in time, don’t we all deserve a happy retreat?

To clean water and clean hands,

Tanner Haid, Eastern Panhandle Field Coordinator

PS – when you visit Happy Retreat, be mindful of where you park (or better yet, walk there!) Be certain not to disturb Happy Retreat mansion, as the house and land adjacent to it are managed by Friends of Happy Retreat. They have great activities happening year-round, check out their calendar for upcoming events.

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